Pappas, Mowers trade barbs on virus response, police reform

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas and Republican challenger Matt Mowers attacked each other Wednesday night over everything from the coronavirus response to health care in a heated debate that was often a shouting match.

The early part of the debate was dominated by the coronavirus response, and Mowers went on the offensive, accusing Pappas of not doing enough to get a new relief package done. Pappas responded that it was President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans who have prevented Congress from reaching a deal.

Pappas then accused Mowers, who has been endorsed by Trump, of largely remaining silent amid the criticism of the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic. Given the opportunity to criticize Trump's response, Mowers avoided answering it and focused instead on the need for ramped-up testing and his support for a vaccine.

“We need a better response from this administration,” Pappas said during the WMUR-TV debate.

“My opponent has been a cheerleader for the Trump administration every step of the way. They hid valuable information from the American people that was needed to keep us all safe. They politicized the use of masks wearing. They called testing a double-edged sword.”

Mowers then took aim at Pappas over his support for a far-reaching police overhaul bill that passed the House after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He focused his criticism on language that would end qualified immunity for officers that shields them from liability.

“Here is what Congressman Pappas did. Despite the fact he told law enforcement two years ago he would support them, he didn't,” Mowers said. “In June, he voted to strip away this qualified immunity. Let me tell you what that would do. It would allow criminals to launch frivolous lawsuits against our cops.”

Pappas didn't directly address his support for ending qualified immunity, saying only that his vote reflected a desire to do something to address “policing in our country and try to save lives.” The bill would have also restricted police chokeholds and set up new training procedures, including beefed-up use of body cameras.

“I wasn't willing to look the other way after George Floyd's murder," Pappas said. “I think we have got to bring the country together around the conversation that can figure out how to solve these problems.”

They also clashed over health care, with Pappas accusing Mowers of wanting to do away with the Affordable Care Act and not having a plan to replace it. Mowers denied this and said he wanted to expanded health care access, offer tax credits for small businesses to provide better health care to their employees, and increase health care savings accounts.

As Mowers detailed his plan, Pappas kept repeating, “Matt, you have no plan.”

Moments like that occurred throughout the debate. The two repeatedly talked over each other and accused the other of being behind false and misleading mailers, and of being influenced by corporate interests.

Climate change was another issue on which they offered sharply contrasting views.

Mowers acknowledged that humans are playing a role in climate change, and he called for unspecified “common sense solutions” to address the problem. But he said that he wouldn't throw American manufactures and businesses “under the bus” when China and India continue to pollute.

“We also have to make sure that we are holding polluters from other countries accountable,” he said, adding that he would support levying tariffs on companies in China and countries “that do not hold themselves to the same environmental standards that we do here in the U.S.”

Pappas laid out an ambitious plan to address climate change, saying he supports legislation that calls for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. He also called for making future construction resilient to climate change, for more funding for rail projects and for the expansion of bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

“This is the future we can build together if we have the right leadership in Congress,” he said.